Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Othery, Somerset

The full set

Apart from the fact that is has one of my favourite English place names, I remember Othery* in Somerset for this fine preserved Hovis sign. I’ve pointed out Hovis signs before, including the typical protruding one I photographed in Brackley, but it’s a long time since I’ve seen this fuller version, in which the words ‘Golden brown’ are added to the brand name. Hovis† flour was a creation of the 1890s, but the company expanded rapidly after 1928, and by the 1930s these signs were in place on the premises of many bakers who used the flour to make the popular golden brown bread. Hovis supplied tins, with the brand name on them, in which to bake loaves. They dished out these signs. And they even produced maps and guidebooks, aimed at cyclists and marking tea rooms where one could enjoy a slice or three of Hovis bread.

Hovis still exists: I had some of their bread only the other day. The brand is as famous now for its effective advertising§ and promotion as it is for its products. The promotion ranges from the famous 1970s commercials, featuring a boy pushing a delivery bicycle up the achingly picturesque Gold Hill in Shaftesbury to the accompaniment of a brass band playing the slow movement of Dvořák’s New World Symphony,¶ to these golden signs, advertising bread still sold today with graphics dating from an earlier era.

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* The Oxford Dictionary of British Place Names says it’s derived from Old English words for ‘other’ and ‘island’, the other or second island. This figures, because Othery is on a kind of extension to a larger island in the wetlands that make up the Somerset Levels.

† Since I seem to have taken an etymological turn, the name is a contraction of the Latin ‘hominis vis’, the strength of man.

§ There’s more about the company and its advertising on the website of the Historic Advertising Trust.

¶ They play this slow movement very quickly, by the way, but it’s still what it is. By linking it to Hovis bread and picturesque English townscape, the commercial has succeeded in linking a piece of music originally associated with Bohemia (aka the Czech Republic, home of the composer) and the USA (where he wrote the symphony), with England. An interesting cultural consequence.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Pimlico, London


I always look out for examples of model dwellings (see an earlier post here) built in the Victorian period by enlightened landlords who want to provide decent accommodation for the working classes. In London, many of these were built by the Peabody Trust, which did a huge amount of work to provide improved housing after its foundation in the 1860s. Peabody flats are often built in pale brick and sometimes with access balconies like these, the Coleshill Flats in London SW1, dating from 1871. On the ground floor are shops, and between the pairs of shops are entrances that lead to stairs to the balconies above. Pale brick with a bit of restrained polychromy in the form of narrow red brick bands, plus sash windows, completes the picture as far as the street facade is concerned.

Except, not quite. Looking up, one sees that the building has very decorative French-style pavilion roofs, each topped with ornate iron creating. It’s a surprising touch on what otherwise looks like a rather basic building, a roofing style that’s more at home on grand hotels or big office blocks. And the accommodation up there must, I’d have thought, be quite small (indeed the one Peabody flat I’ve been in had very small rooms, but was no less convenient and admirable for that). How interesting that the builders of these flats gave them this touch of grandeur, as if signalling that these dwellings were better – lighter, more hygienic, more spacious – than the accommodation its tenants were probably used to. As if, also, anticipating the upward mobility of the area a century later.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

St Endellion, Cornwall


There is much to like* about the church of St Endelienta, at St Endellion, Cornwall, and the interest begins before you get inside the door. Many parish churches have sundials near the entrance – churchgoers need to know whether it’s time for mass, or communion, or whatever term they use, and anyway church doors often face south. This one was put up by (or in memory of) churchwardens Jonathan George and Digory Gray in 1826.

The sundial is a lovely mishmash of motifs, from Ionic columns to the sun itself. At first glance, you could dismiss those columns as rustic Ionic – a simple version of the real thing. But actually, they’re not bad. The columns are fluted, the spiral volutes on the capitals are carefully cut and there is a hint of egg and dart decoration between the spirals. The carver has even included the abacus – the bit just above the capital. When you look closely the sundial has all kinds of other winning details: the row of stylized acanthus leaves marking the top of the square ‘frame’; the tiny interlaced semicircles just below them (just about visible if you click on the detail image above); the designs that fill the quadrants at bottom left and bottom right and look as if they’ve been taken from patterns for part of a plaster ceiling by Robert Adam. The Sun, complete with face, keeps watch above all, and he is set in a panel that’s not arched, not triangular to fit the line of the roof above, but scalloped, another Regency touch. Best of all, the numerals are confidently cut with lots of contrast between the thick and thin strokes – a feature that was highlighted for me as the sun appeared from behind white clouds, transforming a chilly morning and bringing out the best in the carving. Good timing.

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*As is my wont, I’ve concentrated on a single detail. This church also boats beautiful roofs, carved angels and bench ends, and more. Plus a notable music festival, associated particularly with the conductor Richard Hickox and continuing after his death.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Snowshill, Gloucestershire

Coloured counties (2)

In view of the colourful cheer my picture of Hailes brought to a number of my readers, I thought I'd do something I do only rarely: reprise a picture from an earlier post. I first posted this picture, which was taken by the Resident Wise Woman, back in 2009 and, looking at it again, it seems to exemplify the happy combination of colour and building that I was celebrating in my post of Hailes. Even more so than that picture, the scene here comes about purely as a result of a working landscape. The barn – stone walled by roofed in corrugated iron – is a basic working building if ever there was one. A knockabout building. And a knocked-about building. But with my admiration for corrugated iron, even with a coat of rust, I like it nonetheless. As for the flowers, they're lavender, a crop grown commercially in these parts that lights up summer hillsides with blue, and sends visitors out with their cameras.

What works, then, can be beautiful or admirable. You know that, probably, if you're a regular reader of my posts. But whether or not you share my liking for the rusty old iron, you can enjoy the drifts of blue that have grown up around it.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Hailes, Gloucestershire

Coloured counties

Travelling across Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire today, fields of yellow-flowered rape stood out in bands between green grass and trees, blue and deep grey skies. There wasn’t time, today, to stop and photograph such views, taken in beyond fences and dashing objects on the road. So here’s a picture from a couple of years ago, of a similar field in Gloucetsershire with the tiny 13th-century church of Hailes, probably originally the cappella ad portas of the once-great Hailes Abbey, a major medieval pilgrimage centre.

This image symbolises my belief, exemplified I hope by many of the posts on this blog, that a major part of the impact of a building has little to do with the architecture itself. Here at Hailes, the architecture is modest, although it has a simple Early English gothic perfection of its own. But it’s the setting that counts. Up a winding lane off the main road. Orchards beyond. Ruined Cistercian arches not far away. And in front a yellow field that would make the pulse of a Van Gogh race.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Ipswich, Suffolk

King of the beasts

The white hart in my previous post is a prelude to this animal sign, from the Golden Lion Hotel in Ipswich, another picture sent to me by my reader Bob Kindred, and received with many thanks. The lion occupies an appropriate place for the king of the beasts, as high as is feasible on a little stone plinth above cornice level. Mr Kindred reports that years ago the lion was golden in fact as well as name, but in a regilding exercise about 20 years ago some kind of gold paint was used, which has now worn away, leaving the lion looking the worse for wear. And yet, if properly regilded, he could look magnificent again, and would make a striking and eye-catching sign for the hotel whose building he surmounts.

He looks a characterful beast, and a fitting emblem for the 18th and 19th-century structure of the hotel, which also has tiny lion heads on the guttering. But I don’t know whether he’s a one-off or a mass produced lion, perhaps made in Coade Stone, the artificial stone produced in Lambeth, London, and widely used in the Georgian and Regency periods. There are many lions on buildings around the country, but I don’t recall seeing one exactly like him. I wonder if any of my other readers have seen a lion cast from the same mould?

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Okehampton, Devon

Social platform

I seem to have come across a lot of pubs and inns called the White Hart recently. This is not surprising, as it’s apparently the fifth most common pub name in Britain. But a fair number of the examples I’ve noticed have been large establishments – White Hart Hotels – and several have had imposing three-dimensional signs, like this large-antlered beast in the centre of Okehampton.

The white hart, emblem of Richard II, goes back a long way, so it’s not surprising that a lot of old inns and hotels are named after him. This one is a 17th and 18th-century building with a portico consisting of a row of painted columns of local granite (in the Tuscan order) and a large balcony above. There the hart stands, surveying the main street below. He must have seen a lot in his time up there – the comings and goings of travellers, early and late arrivals at countless balls and assemblies, ins and outs of the Town Hall across the road. I was told that the place also played its role in elections. Okehampton was a rotten borough until the Reform Act of 1832, electing two MPs. Apparently the candidates used this balcony to address the populace in the street below. Before, no doubt, disappearing inside for sustenance with their friends. The social media of the day.